Healthy Steps, Day 1 Workshop by Linda McDonald
By Kate O’Neill
Linda McDonald speaks about the lymphatic system, and it’s function in our body- to move the toxins through and out of our bodies. Though the program Healthy Steps was designed for cancer patients, she’s confident it’s helpful for people with PD.
“Tiny Bubbles” plays from the audio- music in the style of Frank Sinatra. She asks those to stand and sway to the music as they blow- blowing is to open the chest, lungs. She asks all to blow upward, extending the neck and spine. Now we put our right ear to our shoulders, on the left. Deeply breathing all move both shoulders upwards and around. We are reaching and holding, focusing on slow movement with deliberation, not aerobics. The amplifier on her microphone fails as she swings her arms in circles, asking, “ Can you hear me? “ She reassures all that if they can only get so far, it’s fine. We perform a second set.
In the back, I hear caregivers reiterating the commands she makes to patients. A woman tells her spouse, “You have to exercise”. She’s not smiling, but intense. Linda asks for the music to slowly fade, telling all they have just opened their lymphatic system. Asking how they feel- the responses are: opened up, tired, looser.
The program called Healthy Steps began in the early 80’s. Formulated by a family with a dancing background, for their mother afflicted with cancer whose course of illness looked bleak.
Linda’s set of helpers passes out blue plastic plates. The helpers move without hesitation or encumberment. She asks all to stretch out their arms, holding the plate above their heads. Imagine a fan- dance; blue and red plates waving through the air, Linda gives directions- having discarded the microphone.
The music from past eras crescendos up and down, then ends. A slower tempo begins as a horn blows. Two couples in particular- their wives coach their spouses, encouraging and reiterating commands. The fellow with marked camptocormia- a severe bend of the spine throws him forward over his thighs, has trouble extending his arms above his head. The woman who told her husband he must exercise more laughs as the helpers distribute bamboo sticks among the attendees. All extend their arms up to the ends of the stick working on range of motion. The music lowers to soft as Mary’s voice gives commands to raise and lower their sticks. A hush falls over the room as they work.
Linda has her left hand on her hip, speaking of the people in Korea, who use the technique. She shares her background is in dance. Again, she discards her microphone- she wants to demonstrate a move in which the patient holds onto an object and balances, raising one foot, shifting body weight from side to side- “Weight transfer is a subtle thing” . She asks people to work on this. Weight transfer is essentially walking, focusing on shifting weight- step, step, fast step, fast step. She encourages people to play music in their homes; the rhythm should even help eating.
“It doesn’t even have to be the big things”. She asks people to think of their feet and ankles- to strengthen their ankles and move their toes and feet.
With a partner behind her she takes a stick in both hands. She holds them horizontally extending them so her arms extend and retract, their steps coordinated. They are connected through the two sticks.
“You are made in the likeness of God.” “You are a finely tuned instrument of….The mind is mightier than he tallest mountain” “You are great. Begin to harness the power inside that will make you even greater.” The affirmations are given after she’s asked all to close their eyes, or simply listen. She says she looks forward to meeting them all.
The time runs out and Marilyn reminds us what activities are in store. An agile white haired woman helps her spouse from his seat, instructing him to put his arms around her neck. He stands and she shifts him into his wheelchair. It’s time for lunch.